Japanese man revives shopping district, teaches students how to sell

Ryota Tomomitsu, 26, has breathed new life into a deteriorating shopping district by holding an event for high school students' teams competing in sales of products they design themselves in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.

Tomomitsu, who was born and brought up in the city, feels he has achieved tangible results from the event. "The town has regained its past prosperity," he said.

Tomomitsu is the second son of the owners of an interior shop that has operated since the early Showa era (1926-1989) in the Takasaki Chubu Meiten-gai shopping district in central Takasaki. He grew up watching his father bustling about promoting the shopping district, where more and more stores were closing.

Tomomitsu planned the event with his friends in 2008 when he was a freshman at Takasaki City University of Economics after thinking, "I'd like to enliven my hometown with the power of youth."

He manages the annual event in a way that participants get profits from the sales of their products after deducting costs they borrow from the executive committee of the event.

"The event becomes a practical learning place," Tomomitsu said proudly.

In the eighth event on Nov. 21-22 last year, a total of 33 high schools participated, including some from other prefectures such as Kagoshima and Kochi. Last year's was the first time that high schools located outside Gunma Prefecture participated in the event.

Products sold in the event included pound cakes whose design was inspired by an image of silk fabric, the local specialty. Total sales reached about ¥3.7 million.

By watching high school students loudly touting their shops, many shop owners in the shopping district recall the basics of the business, according to Tomomitsu.

Many have thanked Tomomitsu for "livening up the shopping district." The number of shops in the shopping district has increased to 89 as of November last year from 80 in 2008.

Tomomitsu, who got a job at a local supermarket in 2012, intends to continue taking part in the management of the event in the future.

"It would be nice if the know-how of energizing a shopping district will spread nationwide," he said hopefully.